WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDSTO SEEK: WEEK 12 BUNTINGS

EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.

This week, it is buntings

This week we turn to a group of essentially sparrow-like birds, the buntings. Indeed, in North America, they call birds in this family ‘sparrows’, owing to their general resemblance to the remembered sparrows of the ‘home countries’. There are three common and widespread British species: Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer and the much declining Corn Bunting. A fourth species, the Cirl Bunting is restricted to a smallpopulationin Devon as well as an increasing reintroduced population in Cornwall (with a total UK population of fewer than 1,000 pairs).

 

Reed Bunting

Male Reed Bunting in reedmace and reed bed

Male Reed Bunting in reedmace and reed bed

Singing male Reed Bunting

Singing male Reed Bunting

Female Reed Bunting

Female Reed Bunting

Arguably the most sparrow-like bunting, the Reed Bunting is a bird of damp areas, wetlands, reedbeds and so on, but also some scrubby bushy areas and farmland. Males are Black-headed (and black billed)with a black bib, giving them an extra touch of sparrowness. They are white collared with a streaky brown upperparts and black streaked white underparts. The longish tail has white outer feathers and is often flicked to show this feature. Females are a bit like female House Sparrows (with similar brown and grey tones), but with more streaks on the underparts and around the face and the same white outer tail feathers.

 

Yellowhammer

Singing male Yellowhammer 'A little bit of bread and no cheeeeese'

Singing male Yellowhammer 'A little bit of bread and no cheeeeese'

Male Yellowhammer, showing yellow underparts

Male Yellowhammer, showing yellow underparts

Female Yellowhammer

Female Yellowhammer

Male Yellowhammers in the spring and summer are spectacular and surprisingly exotic birds, with a strikingly bright yellow head and often yellow underparts. The rest of the plumage is streaked black on reddish brown, with a particularly rufous rump. Like the Reed Bunting (but unlike the Corn Bunting,) the outer tail feathers are white. Females are duller, but retain the yellowish tones in spots. A bird of open country with hedges and bushes, and famed for its ‘little bit of breads and no cheeeese’ song.

 

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Corn Bunting

Singing Corn Bunting

Singing Corn Bunting

The Big Bertha of buntings, the Corn Bunting is a chunky bird, approaching a Starling in size and noticeably round in shape. If you see then alongside Yellowhammers (say, lined up on a wire), they are considerably larger (like the ‘next size up’). It is a pretty nondescript, streaked (giant) bird, with a big, thick (straw coloured) bill, big pinkish feet. It lacks any great distinguishing markings and the very lack of white outer tail feathers is useful. Also useful in ID is the habit of dangling its legs in flight. During Spring, Corn Bunting are most often seen singing, from an exposed perch, be it a wire or fence post or hay bale. The song is a distinctive rattling jangle, often compared to the shaking of a bunch of keys. It doesn’t ream=lly sound like this, but it can be a useful starting point!

 

Cirl Bunting

Singing male Cirl Bunting

Singing male Cirl Bunting

Male Cirl Bunting

Male Cirl Bunting

This rare close relative of the Yellowhammer is similar in many ways to that species. But the male, in particular, has a very distinctive, well-marked green and black face pattern and a all birds have greenish rather than reddish rumps. Females look female Yellowhammers, but with a stronger face pattern (like a ghost of the male's) and that greenish rump.

 

 

All photos from Alamy